Leadership investigate

End-user IT training: Can it really pass the test?

Technology is so easy to use these days that some might question the need for training when most end-users seem happy just bumbling along.

In the run-up to a new IT budget year, tech professionals spend a lot of time thinking about the acquisition of new software, hardware and services. Yet how long do you spend on the functionality and suppliers, versus educating your users?

I'd say probably 80 per cent of the effort goes on the technology itself. The remaining 20 per cent is allocated to developing the rollout plan and educating the users.

But why spend more on education? After all, most technology these days is promoted as intuitive and easy to use. So is education merely for those who are neither geeks nor digital natives?

Before I run one of my email workshops, I encourage participants to benchmark their email IT fitness and tell me which of the top 10 features of their software they use. For example, rules, categories, colour, or in-field editing.

It never ceases to surprise me that so many people struggle or simply have no knowledge of even the most basic functions. All these software features are productivity enhancers and can help save time.

Technology always has an abundance of such productivity functions but many people outside the millennial generation, which means probably 75 per cent of the workforce, may not naturally turn to these tools.

The conscious competence learning matrix shows many users operate with a low level of IT fitness. Image: Monica Seeley/Mesmo Consultancy

The conscious competence learning matrix provides a useful insight into this situation. Many users operate with a very low level of IT fitness in the unconsciously incompetence quadrant. I call these bronze users. They either fumble or just use the bare minimum.

Some make a foray into conscious incompetence by reading about IT and playing with it and will be motivated to move to quadrants three and four, and hence silver and gold.

IT professionals normally operate as gold users in these two quadrants as it's their business to seek out how to bend the software and hardware to make it more functional and integrated with existing applications.

However, how many focus on improving the IT fitness of their customers to make the most of the IT investment?

The average business user's main concern, when faced with either a new application or piece of hardware, is how to get his or her job done with the minimum of disruption. As a result, new functionally is often not exploited and in some cases technology is not as extensively deployed as it should be.

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard a CIO say they have implemented collaborative working tools, such as SharePoint, when in fact the software turns out not to be extensively used in their organisation.

Business users and those of generation X often need help to move from being unconsciously incompetent bronze users to being at least consciously incompetent, silver to gold users and hungry to exploit the technology.

Users operating in Q3 and Q4 improve their personal productivity and this improvement leads to better technology take-up and greater returns on the IT investment.

Here are three easy ways to help business users improve their IT fitness, which some CIOs are using very effectively.

1. Benchmark IT fitness

Provide online tools that users can access to benchmark their own level of IT fitness - for example, our Outlook IT Fitness check. Just knowing what you don't know often spurs people to learn.

2. Deployment role models

Adopt a role model for deploying technology. Send members of the helpdesk to sit beside users or do some floor-walking to see what users do and how they use the technology. It can be an eye-opener.

3. Regular hints and tips

Produce regular - say, weekly or even daily - tips and hints that are task-based. One tip could be, for example, using a certain colour to highlight emails from key people. However, make sure the tips are tested and checked by a person of low IT fitness, because you will be surprised at how much we in the profession take for granted.

Ideally the time spent on user education versus selecting the technology should be 80:20 rather than the normal 20:80. That's asking a lot and involves a big culture change. Sadly, in times of budget constraints training is usually the first item to be axed.

Yet just a small increase in time and budgets allocated to business user education will yield real benefits. One hour's training will give you back at least two hours' increased productivity. In these days of almost zero interest rates, training is a great investment towards improving the bottom line.

About

Dr Monica Seeley is an international expert on email management and runs the Mesmo Consultancy. She is a visiting fellow at Cass Business School, City University, London, and has just written her third book, Brilliant Email, published by Pearson.

18 comments
LalaReads
LalaReads

I seem to remember, back in the DOS days, that those hardcopy manuals not only explained software features but also gave you examples of how to use them. Then something changed. I guess that model was abandoned because there are so many features. Complicating this is that even courses written to teach users do little more than regurgitate what is in an app's help section. Training tends to follow a top down approach instead of finding the hook to capture the trainees' attention. Lastly, most users are doing more work due to layoffs. The result is the trainer can't truly teach users anything because the users are too distracted and they are being forced fed new training that doesn't tell them how exactly it will make their jobs easier. Afterwards, they've all rushed back to their desks to catch up on the work they couldn't do because they had to attend training. They don't practice the new tools so they don't absorb much. Sound familiar? The key is to find the hook for the users, to capture their attentions and actually make them *want* to hear more. Perhaps IT should hire the people who create infomercials to create engaging training sessions. What I would love to see is more targeted training, focusing on the needs of the trainees. The trainer should gives a mini spiel about the topic, engage the audience to tell them their biggest pain points, focus on those points during the lecture, then have time for everyone to try the new features that are most important to them. And make it fun. This may take a lot more work up front, but it will truly improve productivity and decrease workers' stress levels. The really good trainers already do this. Hire them. If you have a great trainer that's not very technical, pair them with a techie to answer the difficult questions. This will get you the best bang for your training buck. P. S. Management, you have to make your environment conducive to training. Trainers can't work miracles.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

I too find the millenials are no more tech-savvy than anyone else; unless using an iPod 24/7 counts as tech-savvy. As a matter of fact, one day when I was substitute teaching I asked a millenial if he verified the spelling of the words in his document. He assured me he had done so. I walked to the other side of the room and announced, loudly, the students should use the spell-checker available in the word-processing software because the word SURVEY does not contain the letter "A".

boucaria
boucaria

I have tried for many years at the Desktop level to provide material to people I support, and the hoops I had to jump through were based on the "training" ( Monkey see, Monkey do) rather than combining Training with educating staff ( A method with the rote training ). Consequently, I made more progress writing and sending tips out, as well as podcasts, or pointing people to podcasts available. I have bought more manuals out of my own pocket, and then loaned them to staff when needed, and I am not even in training. In my view the quadrant element is overthought pseudo-analysis, basically because the people will work hard to get to know what they need to know, and given half a chance and the resources, and some encouragement, many people will make an effort to learn skills and methods.

maxdev
maxdev

Hi tech has been with us for a few decades now. And one thing people in general have learnt, esp given the proliferation of mobile phones, is that in-depth knowledge is often made obsolete by the next, newest, shiniest, brightest tech gadget walking in at the door. So why make the effort that it takes? As long as I know the basics to get by, why should I care about the rest? To a large extent, technology has become the victim of its own success. Bumbling along, in todays world, has become quite acceptable practice, thank you very much! If the purpose behind technology is to make things easier for us humans, then end user training is rather redundant. Given the increasing complexity, you forget that training has become increasingly difficult. I think end-users have already made their judgment in the potential for payoff.

svilla8874
svilla8874

I have college students in my home. Both of them regularly share work with or help their friends with classwork. My kids have been shocked that their peers seem to lack basic word processing skills. For example, they are working extremly hard to format their papers rather than using Styles to help them produce one of several formats they must use. My daughter is an English major and is amazed that her friends don'k know about using the thesarus to help them select different words (her pet peeve besides the formatting thing, using the same adjetive over and over). This said, getting people to use their software as designed is a big challenge for me. I smiled at the author's suggestion to produce weekly (or daily!) tips. I've been doing tips for my office for a few years now and have a couple of points: 1. Only about 60% of my users even read my tips (all marked TIP: with description in the Subject line) 2. Of that 60%, maybe a quarter will actually attempt to use what I'm showing them. I don't know how you encourage people to try stuff - to think 'there must be a better way to do this' before using their space bar to indent, or type a series of numbers instead of using Fill functions, I can go on. It's about creating a culture where people make an effort to learn how to use the tools provided while still getting the day-to-day work done. Where I work now, the workforce is highly educated. And they're just as bad as the Millenials my kids know. I wish I knew an answer for this. I don't think it's training, I think you need to shift everyone's mindset about using the technology tools provided.

JJFitz
JJFitz

The first budget item to get cut in a city is usually the school budget. The same holds true for IT training in the corporate world. Many people in places of power are shortsighted and do not see the long term value in having smarter workers or citizens. I have to disagree with you regarding younger generation workers "naturally turning" to IT tools. I have met many young workers who work hard and not smart. Email organization is a good example. Most young people do not use email very much at home or at school so why would they know any better about how to organize their email in the workforce? They use texting and social networking which are much less structured and not organization friendly. My IT department spends more time training younger workers to use the corporate tools available to them than we do on veteran workers. Veteran workers come in with more Outlook experience. They might have some bad email habits but they are less in the dark than younger workers. I like your suggestion of the IT fitness check and will add that to my training tools.

monica
monica

Agree with all you say.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Hardcopy manuals were dropped as a cost-savings measure by the manufacturers. This was made possible because users ignored the manuals; why print what people aren't going to use? Drop the manual and decrease the production and shipping costs. Hence the coining of the expression 'RTFB' and its brethren, although the rise of software distribution via download would probably have killed the printed manual anyway. People are still free to purchase printed manuals separately, and many of them are better than the documentation vendors used to include. A few years ago we dropped our MRP system and switched to the same ERP package as the rest of the corporation. Training was provided two months in advance, with no additional interaction available between training and the activation. Indeed, user accounts weren't even active until the 'Go live' date; no overlap of transactions or refresher training. Did I mention the 'Go live' date was immediately after the week-long Christmas holiday? Brilliant.

monica
monica

Hi RMS When running smart email workshops and webinars a constant cry from clients is can I teach Millanials to write a proper email (aka letter) as they do not seem to be able to string together a sentence. Text speak and i-devices are the main things with which they are comfortable. The other spell-checker howler I use is 'pubic' which the spellchecker inserts instead of 'public'.

monica
monica

Hi RMS When running smart email workshops and webinars a constant cry from clients is can I teach Millanials to write a proper email (aka letter) as they do not seem to be able to string together a sentence. Text speak and i-devices are the main things with which they are comfortable. The other spell-checker howler I use is 'pubic' which the spellchecker inserts instead of 'public'.

monica
monica

Hi, Sounds like you end-users are lucky to have you. Like the podcast idea. What are they one?

JJFitz
JJFitz

I either write up the instructions with screenshots and save it to our SharePoint How-To page or make a video of it and save it to a personal YouTube page. I find that a lot of people appreciate the video demo. TechSmith's SnagIt and Camtasia are great tools for these tasks. Remoting in to their desktop and showing them is also helpful. I have just started playing around with GoToMeeting for internal training too. It's pretty cool.

monica
monica

Hi Maxdev Agree technology has become more complex but not so sure about training. They key to good end-user training is to make the technology apprear simple and find real problems which it can solve. Bubbling along means wsting time pressing the wrong keys and sometimes deleting data. Good training does save time. May be your end-users need a good training experience from a business perspective rather than technical bells and whistles. Happy to dialogues again.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I'd agree with you if the users knew the capabilities of the software and didn't want to repeatedly relearn how to use those tools in each new version. Many apps do include more features than most users need, but that's where training tailored to their needs can be useful. Show them the tools they can most benefit from, and ignore those that are better suited to other environments or advanced users. Monica's point is that they don't know what the software is capable of. It's like having a TV remote control and thinking all it can do is turn the set on and off.

monica
monica

Hi, You make a good point about shifting the mindset - it is about finding hooks as others have mentioned. In my experience the hook is to save time and find easy ways to do things. One reasons people don't try new ways is because this respresents 'change'. Under pressure you always revert to the old habits be that a sports technique or way of using technology. If 60% read your tips that is good. They must surely learn something. Don't give up. Just keep finding new hooks.

JJFitz
JJFitz

When my children were in middle school, I had to teach them that content is more important than formatting. Write your paper first and fuss with the formatting later. I suggested that they use WordPad until they are finished writing. That way, they are less distracted. Now that they are in high school I am trying to teach them to save their papers in the cloud. (Google docs, skydrive, dropbox - whatever) The advantages are:You can edit it wherever you are. You can't lose or forget it like you can with a flash drive and you don't have to worry if your home computer crashes. My point is, this stuff does not come natural to any generation. Most people need someone to show them how.

monica
monica

Hi JJFitz, I have only just seen all these comments - glad readers liked the article and grateful for the comments. Interesting to hear that young people are not so good at making IT work for them as they make out. That is my impression but hard to quantify. One IT Director told me that many new graduates don't even know how to accept a meeting invite. Glad you found the IT Fitness check useful. Let me know if I can be of any ore help, eg webinar or other IT Fitness Checks.

monica
monica

Hi again, Thanks for the tips on TechSmith's SnagIt and Camtasia. Go to Meetings as a webinar is good too - so long as you keep it interactive eg with questions. Good luck.